What to do about dead links

This blog shows excerpts from articles at other websites and the links to original articles.  Usually there is a link at the end of a given excerpt or quote, a link (e. g.: Full Story) that leads to the original location of an article from which an excerpt was taken and quoted.

Those links often go dead or become dysfunctional as time goes by.  The time interval for that to happen varies.  For instance, many newspaper websites show articles only for a limited time that ranges anywhere from 24 hours to a few days, a week or sometimes even years.  After a link goes dead, it is often possible to obtain an archived copy of an article by a news paper or magazine, usually for a fee.

Fortunately, it is often possible to access an archived version of an article identified by a dead link.  The way to do that is to copy a link location and to enter it in the search field at the Internet Archive.  Here are the detailed steps for doing that.

  1. Place your cursor on a link that you found to be dead;
  2. Right-click the dead link, that opens a pop-up menu;
  3. Select “Copy Link Location” and left-click your selection;
  4. Use your browser to go to http://www.archive.org/;
  5. In the screen that will be shown, move your cursor to the search-input field at the upper left-hand portion of the screen and left-click your mouse;
  6. Press the following key combinations: either<alt>+<e>+<p> or <crt>+<v>
    That will paste the link location you copied into that search field; and
  7. Click on the “GO!” button to the right of the search field.  If the website at one time contained a page with an article to which the dead links now points, the next thing that will happen (provided that the website permits being crawled) is that a list of link locations for that article will be shown.

The later entries in the list of link locations may not be the ones you are looking for, as the contents of a given article at a link location may have been replaced after ownership of the relevant website expired.  However, if that is the case, go to links for earlier years and dates.  Eventually you will most likely find the article you are looking for.

The dates for the various link locations represent the dates on which the website with the article you are looking for was crawled.  What that means is that you can look up a sequence of issues for a given web page.  That will work not only for dead links but also for existing web pages.  The good thing about that is that you can look up information that has been edited out of a given web page or look for information that was added to a web page.  That often comes in handy when trying to determine how and how often the “truth” (all of the truth and nothing but the truth) that is being presented on a web page (e. g.: a controversial entry at Wikipedia) changes as time goes by.

If you wish to help to keep dads & things current and credible, please post a comment to the blog entry for which you found a replacement for a dead link and identify the replacement link.

One Response to What to do about dead links

  1. There are better alternatives for that than the Wayback Machine (a.k.a. the Internet Archive). You may wish to skip all of the complaining in the following and go right to the end of this comment to get to the gist of things.

    Theoretically, the Wayback Machine should solve the issue of links that have gone dead. One would simply copy the URL that has gone dead, paste it into an entry field at the Wayback Machine and would then be able to select from all of the versions of the web page that has gone lost that were archived over time.

    The reality of that is that the people operating the Wayback Machine are working under a lot of constraints that make for great inconveniences to their user community. Here are some of those:

    1. An archived page or document that exists today may not be there tomorrow. When, for instance, a government office removes a web page or re-writes it, so as to “change” history, it may decide to include the URL for that web page in its robot.txt file for the website, which not only removes that web page from indexing for search engines, but which appears to motivate the Wayback Machine to remove al of the previous version of that web page from its archives. What good is an archive if documents can be removed from it?
    2. Often several tries to load a web page for which a URL to an archived version exists will not load, and attempts do do so will result in nothing more than error messages such as this one:

      The connection has timed out
      The server at web.archive.org is taking too long to respond.
      — The site could be temporarily unavailable or too busy. Try again in a few moments.
      — If you are unable to load any pages, check your computer’s network connection.
      — If your computer or network is protected by a firewall or proxy, make sure that Firefox is permitted to access the Web.

      Right. That is not very informative, even though it seems to cover all the angles but one. The last time I saw that note and made repeated attempts to “try again”, nothing happened because the Wayback Machine was out of commission due to some upgrades they were making just then, and I had lost a considerable amount of time. That was not the first time that happened to me, but I think that it has been the last time (I hope).

    There are better solutions, and here is one of them that I will try for the next little while. Just now I posted the following to Facebook:

    Problems with links that have gone dead?

    You can’t get the web archive to produce the article that you know was there just a little while ago?

    This may be the solution you were looking for. It is free for individual, non-commercial writers, but pay attention to what they are telling you about them possibly not being able to accept any new members after the end of this year.

    There are a few people I know that use it and like it. I just signed up and will have to try it out. It is quite likely the solution to some of the failings of the web archive that have been a real pain in the back for me for quite some time.

    At worst, this will be a good tool to use in addition to the web archive. It seems that with WebCite what you archive will stay archived, and it can be recalled at any time with just one click.

    http://www.webcitation.org/

    Enjoy…

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